By Stephen Ubanna
This is not the best of times for officers and men of the Nigerian Customs Services, NCS, in their anti-smuggling drive across the country and implementing the government Fiscal policies at the seaports in order to ensure that importers with their agents make correct declaration and pay appropriate duties .
This is because of the Wuhan Town in Hebei Province of China emerged Coronavirus, popular, COVID 19. Moreso, the Nigerian Center For Disease Control, NCDC, under the close watch of Chikwe Ihekweazu, and the World Health Organisation, a health agency of the United Nations, UN, regulation on social distancing rules to curb the spread of the disease in the country may have made matters worse.
Being one of the frontline agencies of government, which job had been described as hazardous under the present circumstances, ameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, of the government Revenue generating agency appears to have found out ways of encouraging the officers and men of the Service to do their job in this trying and difficult times in the country without fear of infection.
From Owerri, Lagos, Kaduna to the Lagos and South east seaports, the story is the same: intensified anti-smuggling operations and revenue drive, notwithstanding the ravaging COVID 19, across the globe. At the southeast and south-south geo-political regions, under the close watch of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone C, Owerri, Imo state, Kayode Olusemire, the Area Controller, has thrown his weight behind, Ahmadu Shuaibu,a Deputy Comptroller, in-charge of the Command’s Operations and his men, to tighten up security at the two regions to ensure that smuggled goods were intercepted under any guise adopted by the smugglers.
This is evident going by the large quantities of the Asian country of Thailand parboiled rice Vegetable oil and other items including vehicles which had escaped the eagle eyes of the FOU, Zone A, Comptroller General of Customs, CGC Strike Force, and the Border Drill sector 1, Lagos Zonal offices, personnel, in the south west geo-political region, that had fallen into the waiting hands of Olusemire patrol Team officers at different smugglers’ routes in the two regions.
Most of the smuggled food items which are intercepted by the patrol Teams and taken to the Government Warehouse, Benin, Edo state, for instance, were said to have been intercepted along the routes between Ondo and the south – south state of Edo, an indication that the smuggled items may have entered Ondo and Edo, after beating the large array of security agencies personnel including Customs officers at Ogun, Oyo and Osun states.
Insiders told The Value News that Olusemire, the FOU, Zone C, Comptroller, has a way of ensuring that the intercepted food items kept at the Government Warehouses in Benin, Enugu or Calabar, Cross River state are always in good condition for human Consumption no matter the number of years kept in the Warehouse.
He was said to have given a matching order to the Customs Intelligence Unit, CIU, officers, to consider it as a matter of responsibility to carry out routine inspection of the food items in the Warehouse to identify the spoilt bags and separate them from the good ones. The CIU, officers were said to have been alive to their duties.
It was not surprising that when Ali , the Customs Comptroller General, at the instance of President Muhammadu Buhari, gave the Comptrollers the nod to arrange the food items in their warehouses, particular, the foreign seized foreign rice, vegetable oil and other items, for distribution to the poor and vulnerable Nigerians by Hajia Sadiya Omar-Farouk, minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, he did not find it difficult to work with the officials of the Nigerian Agency For Food and Drug Administration, NAFDC, with ease to achieve result.
The NAFDAC, officials were said to have visited each of the Government warehouses in the two regions under the control of the Command, to collect samples to their laboratory for testing before giving approval for the Trucks to load and deliver to the states.
While the FOU, Zone C, Customs personnel are alive to their duties in the southeast and south-south, the CGC, Strike Force, appear to have taken over the responsibility of the Usman Yayaha, acting Comptroller of FOU, Zone A, and his men in the rent time. A senior officer of the Command who spoke to the Magazine on condition of anonymity disclosed that this COVID19 period is not a time to make seizures of Contraband because of the PTF, on COVID 19 and NCDC, Regulations on social distancing.
The seizures that had been made by the Strike Force in the south west in last four speaks volume. Adba Kakudi an acting Deputy Comptroller, Zonal Coordinator of the CGC Strike Force, Lagos zonal office, and his men were said to have made several Contraband seizures in the south west geo-political region valued at about N2.135 billion.
The Team was said to have also reecovered millions of naira from Underpayment. This is money which have entered into private accounts both for the vigilance of the officers on the road to intercept suspected Containers which are transferred to the Government warehouse Ikeja, for proper examination an valuation.
Although, the economic saboteurs had taken advantage of the COVID 19, to perfect their tactics in beating Customs anti-smuggling officers in the south west to it, Kakudi may have studied the strategies adopted Comptroller Plusemire at the FOU, Zone C, to deal with the south west smugglers which had yielded results to the Team.
A break -down of the Contraband seizures that was said to have been made by the Kakudi led Team include 474 cartons of longsra tablets, 421 cartons of Heigra tablets,41,500 cartons of Tin Tomato, 318 bags of ‘’50’’ bags f Foreign rice , 712 jerry cans of vegetable oil and 25 kegs of Premium Motor Spirit, popular, petrol .The Team was said to have also recovered millions of naira which could have entered into private accounts through issuance of Demand Notice, DN, on intercepted suspected Containers released from the ports.
it is interesting to note that while the various anti-smuggling Commands and the ad-hoc Teams are working round the clock to contain the activities of smugglers within the country, the Comptrollers at the seaports, particular, that of Port Harcourt Area I, Onne, AB. Mohammed, is not leaving anything to Chance as he is not giving fraudulent importers with their agents operating at the port a breather.
Within four months the onne Command was said to have generated N16 billion for the government despite the low volume of cargo traffic at the port because of the shrinking Container vessels calling at the port due to COVID 19.
The Command was said to have also made some Container seizures which had contravened the government fiscal policy. In one of the seized Containers which its contents was declared as hand tools going by the Import document, it was found to have contained candle wax and tomato paste in retail packs. The Containerised cargo, according to the Area Comptroller has a Duty Paid Vale of about N30.7 million.
Another Container which was also seized was said to have been declared as carrying spraying pumps for insecticides but found to be loaded with ntegetable Oil and Margarine. The DPV, of the Consignment, according to Valuation experts was about N19.56 million.
The terminal Examination and the releasing officers may not have compromised on their job because they knew the fraudulent importers with their agents may not be able to exit the Container from the gate because of the tight security mounted by Mahmood Ibrahim, a Deputy Comptroller and his men who has the support of the Area Comptroller.
Given the Container seizures made by the Command, Mohammed, the Customs Comptroller, has warned smugglers and other economic saboteurs ‘’to stay clear of the port as he will not tolerate any act that will jeopardize the nation’s security’’. This is bad news to the importers with their agents who had been escaping with their bad jobs over the years, going by the seizures of one or two Containers that had been released from the Command by FOU, Zone C, patrol Teams, along the Aba Expressway in Port Harcourt some two years ago.
Appealing to the officers to be on the alert on their duties, he noted that though the pandemic, has affected port operations in many ways, he has expressed optimism that with the measures that had been put in place by the PTF, on COVID 19, under the Chairmanship of Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the government of the Federation and the NCDC, at the instance of President Muhammadu Buhari, to contain the disease, economic activities will soon return at the ports .